One would also discuss a number of irresponsible stupidities in this budget: the increase of tariffs reversing the hard-won progress in reducing protectionism; the inefficient doubling of the allocation to the Fiji Visitors Bureau; or the granting of tax incentives only to the rich (those investing more than $2 millions) and not to the thousands of small and poor potential entrepreneurs who should be helped.
This is the question the public need to ask: what significant changes has this military government brought in that would not have been brought in by a normal responsible government, elected by tax-payers themselves?
Do taxpayers agree with the massive 39 per cent increase in salaries (amounting to $23 million per year) that the military government gave the Fiji Military Forces staffing establishment that will now continue into the long-term future?
It is evil therefore that $50 million which could have gone to health, education, and poverty alleviation, was given to the military, by Commodore Bainimarama, who did the coup, appointed himself Prime Minister, appointed himself “Minister of Finance” and gives tax-payers’ money to buy the support of his soldiers for the coup. It is evil that our hard-working and valuable nurses, who were forced to go on strike for a pitiful increase in salaries, were beaten down by this interim government and its lackeys.
It is evil when our health centres last year ran out of medicines, because the then Interim Minister of Finance had to cover the over-expenditure by the military: while $15 million had been approved for medicines, only $10 million was allowed to be spent in 2007 (read the fine print in the 2009 Estimates).
Commentators are making the mistake of comparing VAT-inclusive figures in previous years (2006 and 2007) with 2008 and 2009 estimates where the VAT has been differently estimated. This illusion permeates the whole of the 2009 budget, much of which is now presented without the application of VAT. The real increases in many areas, including total government expenditure, is far more than it appears.
That is obvious from last year’s budget by Mr Chaudhry that gave the 2007 Revised Expenditure for the military as $72 million. The Actual Expenditure, published in this year’s budget, was $118 million, an over-expenditure of $47 million.
Over the next 20 years, the 39 per cent unauthorised increase in military salaries, which will be virtually impossible to reverse, will cost the tax-payers an additional $460 million. That is in addition to the normal $1,260 millions that will be spent on their normal salaries as approved by the 2006 Parliament.
All money that will not be spent on education (teachers), health (nurses) or poverty alleviation, for the poorest of all races in Fiji. That is the evil legacy that Bainimarama’s military government will be leaving the people of Fiji, and future elected governments (if we ever get one).
The people of Fiji must realise that the effect of all these tax holidays is that the future burden of raising revenue for government, will fall on indirect taxation including the VAT, whose burden falls most heavily on the poorest in the country.
Of course, the business community, large investors, the senior accounting firms, will be rubbing their hands with glee, since none of this future taxation burdens will fall on them, while they will be enjoying the delights.
Of course, the tourism industry will be very happy with the drastic doubling of their FVB allocation, from $12 million to $24 million, even if the increase is stupid as it cannot be efficiently implemented.
Did the Ministry of Finance look at the sad previous experience when Jim Ah Koy doubled the FVB allocation without any proportionate increase in tourism arrivals (my 2004 report must be gathering dust on the shelves of the Ministry of Tourism).
This country has rarely if ever seen any moral response from the business community to any budget which has damaging impacts on the society at large. That is to be expected. They are here to make money, not to look after the poor.
Only three years ago, a whole heap of clerics would have been shouting from the roof-tops challenging a government which takes away food and medicines from the poor and gives it to the powerful armed men in uniforms. Today, CCF (Akuila Yabaki, Jone Dakuvula and others) and the Fiji Labour Party, are all silent about the huge military over-expenditure. Other clerics, such as Father Kevin Barr, Archbishop Mataca and Father David Arms recite the mantras of honesty, transparency and accountability, while actively supporting the NCBBF and the Charter processes, which are all that now remain to justify the 2006 military coup and the huge military over-expenditure.
The Commodore’s 2009 Budget address, helped along by John Samy, talked of being pro-poor, and fostering economic growth, two favourite themes of the ADB, from which John Samy and Francis Narayan recently retired.
The cherubic Interim Attorney General, now also an economic expert, solemnly justified on television the massive salary increases to the military establishment as “necessary adjustments long over-due”.
While academic Dr Rohit Kishore, newly appointed by the Military Government to the board of directors of Home Finance Corporation took a whole page of a newspaper to explain “how the budget must drive the planning process”. What drivel Yes indeed, let us all plan for military over-expenditure for the foreseeable future!
Dr. W. Narsey, Fiji Sun 26Nov08